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Dinner-Party Nazis 

Is it a West Coast thing when friends RSVP for a party and then flake?

Wednesday, Feb 2 2005
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Dear Social Grace,

I'm from the East Coast, so I'm not sure if this is just a cultural difference or not, but out here in San Francisco, it seems that certain people find it perfectly OK to accept an invitation and then flake -- without notifying me either before or after the event.

Sometimes, I'm left speechless, like when I was planning a dinner for 15 who had RSVP'd as "yes" and only seven people showed up. (And I even asked people to confirm two days before the event.)

Personally, I find it very inconsiderate (and downright rude), especially when an accurate count is necessary for food, reservations, etc. Where I'm from, it's considered socially unacceptable and rarely happens. People will call beforehand or try to come up with some excuse better than, "Oh, I was just having a low-energy day so I thought I'd chill at home instead."

What do you think are some steps that I can take to deal with this phenomenon? On the East Coast, you basically consider the person undependable and never invite them again, but out here, I've been accused of being "Stalin-esque" or a "Nazi" by doing that. What do you think?

Thanks,
Flake Intolerant

Dear Flake-Intolerant Madam or Sir,

First, I must ask everyone to agree that likening anything other than a genocidal regime to Nazism is unacceptably repugnant. It trivializes, and bespeaks an unforgivably poor understanding of, who the Nazis were and what crimes they committed. I've noticed that many people need to be more careful with such pejoratives: Someone who simply disagrees with you -- who voted Republican or who asks you to follow through on your social commitments, for instance -- is not a "Nazi" (or a "fascist," and so on).

And we can safely say that the "Do Whatever You Feel Like" ethos (which is, I grant you, a bit more prevalent on the Pacific end of our country) has gone too far when a person who expects his friends to make a minimal effort to treat him with courtesy is thus maligned.

Your pique seems to be justified. The very least a person should do when he must bow out of a dinner engagement at the last minute is to telephone (no one is ever more than an arm's length away from a phone these days), pretend to be contrite, and come up with some sort of excuse. You even have my permission to fib: a case of the sniffles or an office mail-server crash -- something!

For you, I suggest a forgiving attitude and some gentle correction as the next step. (Correcting someone gently means acting as if she already knows how to behave and has already apologized for the minor slip-up.) For instance:

Friend: "Oh, I thought I'd chill at home instead."

You: "I'm so glad to hear you're OK! You're such a thoughtful person that I just knew only an emergency would've kept you from calling. I was silly to worry."

Before your next party, give known flakes room to be flaky (by confirming plans with them, as you have done). But if an acquaintance continues to demonstrate that he doesn't give a darn about you and your other guests, please do remove him from future guest lists, even if you do so only until he shows some social improvement. That's not unnecessarily harsh or cruel: Cherishing friends who treat you well and spending as little time as possible with those who don't -- that's common sense.

Dear Social Grace,

My friend is about to have her second son. She has saved all her baby items and clothes from her first, but she still wants to have a baby shower with the whole nine yards: invitations, games, and gifts. Is this lame?

Kami

Dear Kami,

Organizing one's own shower in order to get gifts does smack rather repulsively of greediness, yes. A baby shower should be organized by a new parent's loved ones. (Like all gift showers, it is neither a right nor a necessity -- it is a lovely, thoughtful "extra" -- though some light, indirect hinting is probably OK.) Usually, those loved ones will plan the celebration that is appropriate: Maybe the new parents really do need baby things (in some families, "hand-me-down" baby showers are common) -- or maybe Mom simply needs some pampering gifts for herself, or Mom and Dad a couple of hours of good food and happy conversation about baby names and future plans (such a celebration needn't be called a "shower"). Baby showers, in their current form, don't have a long history of tradition behind them. They are a distillation of the long-standing human practice of communities helping new parents prepare for a baby. Taking advantage of this practice by trolling for unneeded gifts is not very nice.

Dear Social Grace,

Next week, I will be visiting my "high school sweetheart" -- from 35 years ago. Long story short, we lost contact decades ago and recently became reacquainted through another friend. He is married with two teenage children. When I visit, I will be staying overnight, and I want to bring a gift appropriate for all of them. Wine is not appropriate for the teenagers, and neither are flowers. Any suggestions?

L

Dear L,

An edible treat of some kind (sweets, a fruit basket, or something like that) for the family to share is in order. Food can be a good all-purpose choice when you're in doubt about what to bring as a host gift (something that is specifically a Bay Area treat might be nice in this case). I wouldn't suggest bringing gifts meant solely for the teenagers until you know them better.

Dear Social Grace,

I know that you're traditionally not supposed to say "congratulations" to a newly engaged woman -- you say it to the man -- but I can't for the life of me remember what I'm supposed to say to her. Can you help?

Via the Internet

Dear Congratulatory Madam or Sir,

To newly affianced or wed women, I generally say something like "I'm so happy for you" or "Mazel tov." Then you can throw in "That's wonderful news" or "What a beautiful ceremony" for good measure.

If you're writing a note, something more formal -- along the lines of "I wish you every happiness and many, many joyful years together" -- will do nicely, followed by some personal, specific good wishes.

The rule about not congratulating the bride is becoming relatively antique. From all appearances, many people in the post- baby boomer set aren't aware of its existence. It is, however, good to keep in mind.

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Social Grace

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